DSSR Celebrates International Women in Engineering Day

Figures reveal that only 16.5% of people working in engineering and manufacturing are female. There is, however, positive news here—the latest figures represent an increase of more than 25% since 2016.

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Posted 1 week ago

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On International Women in Engineering Day, we wanted to take the time to interview some of the female engineers within DSSR to get a better idea of their journey into the field, their experiences as women within the industry, and their thoughts on how more women can get involved in engineering.

Figures reveal that only 16.5% of people working in engineering and manufacturing are female. There is, however, positive news here—the latest figures represent an increase of more than 25% since 2016.

DSSR is pleased to report that we are ahead of the national average, and is keen to play an active role in encouraging more women to choose engineering as a career.

 

Lindsay Wood – Regional Director

It’s always interesting to hear people describe how they got where they are. Can you please tell us about your journey into the engineering field?

After much deliberation, knowing that I wanted to do something technical/maths related at school, I studied Building Design Engineering at Strathclyde University with the intention to follow the architectural stream (the course was a mix of Architectural Design, Structural Engineering, Building Services Engineering and Construction Management).

After my first 2 years of combined studies, it was obvious that my strengths and interests lay in the application of engineering to energy in buildings, so I completed the Building Services stream.

Between my penultimate & final years at University, I had a summer placement at DSSR which gave me a broader insight into the Building Services Industry. I was offered a graduate position with DSSR when I left university. That was over 25 years ago & I have worked my way up through the Office to be a member of the Senior Management Team in our Glasgow Office.

Would you say there are barriers to women joining the industry? Have you experienced any barriers in your own journey?

Barriers – yourself (mainly)! As a woman in a male-dominated environment, I have tended to make sure that I can do something 100% before I will commit to it, where some of my male counterparts have gone for things earlier & with less experience and got there just the same. My message would be ‘don’t doubt that you can do it’ & ‘have faith in your abilities’.

If you have, how did you overcome them?

Worked hard & earned respect. Given everyone their place & their opportunity to speak up – I have learnt a lot from all different people along the way. I am now respected for my technical knowledge / abilities within our business and often look over my shoulder for the ‘more experienced head’ that the junior engineers are seeking out – then realise that ‘more experienced head’ is me!

In your opinion, is there anything the industry could do better to encourage women to join?

Female role models & peer support for young women coming into Industry – it can be a daunting prospect, but seeing someone who has done it before can make it easier. Our industry, unfortunately, expects a full-time commitment with instant response. Working part-time, this isn’t always achievable and acknowledgement of flexible / part-time working patterns needs to be better appreciated. Maybe one plus side to the pandemic is the acknowledgement that people are working in more flexible ways than ever before.

What has been your career highlight so far?

Managing a team of 20 engineers (some old enough to be my dad!) across 2 locations to deliver the design of an 814-bed (96,000m²) Acute Hospital in central Scotland back in 2009. This has then led on to further technical and leadership challenges as well as promotion in 2020 to Regional Director. Also being proud of mentoring the next generation of engineers, some of whom are now located worldwide as their own careers have developed, and being involved in the Industrial Liaison for our local degree programme which helps shape the degree programme going forward.

 

Fiona Williamson: Regional Director

It’s always interesting to hear people describe how they got where they are. Can you please tell us about your journey into the engineering field?

At school I wanted to be an architect, a love of Lego, drawing and buildings lead me in that direction. My stronger skills were in more technical subjects such as maths and physics so I was encouraged to look into engineering. I settled on an undergraduate degree course at Strathclyde University, called Building Design Engineering. This was of interest as it covered a variety of building elements including architecture, structural engineering and environmental engineering. I particularly enjoyed environmental engineering and in particular Sustainable Building Design and completed my honours degree in this subject. This lead me to look at Building Services Consultancies which even in the late 1990s were involved in the design of sustainable and low-energy buildings. Since graduating I have been able to use my skills and passion to influence building designs and continue to look forward and the opportunities.

Would you say there are barriers to women joining the industry? Have you experienced any barriers in your own journey?

Traditionally the barrier occurred at school, where girls are not typically encouraged into the construction industry. This has definitely changed, but many young people still believe that working in Construction means working on a site. There are however many other opportunities available and women can thrive in this industry, as they can often provide a different point of view.

If you have, how did you overcome them?

I personally have not experienced any barriers, but remembering that I am equal to others helps me to overcome any that could be perceived.
In your opinion, is there anything the industry could do better to encourage women to join?
Our industry has a long way to go in regards to being family-friendly. I have seen the regularly drive brilliant engineers away from the industry as they are unable to balance family and work.

What has been your career highlight so far?

I have loved being part of the evolution of the construction industry seeing the changes in safety and welfare as well as the continuing challenges of meeting the future needs of our world. I am in a privileged position to have the skills required to help contribute to managing Climate Challenge and this is something that I am very proud of.

 

Carina McKinney: Associate

It’s always interesting to hear people describe how they got where they are. Can you please tell us about your journey into the engineering field?
I always wanted to be doing something that would be improving the environment we’re living in. I had a lot of options that I considered—such as environmental studies, environmental science or an energy-related field—but engineering combined these with my skillset and abilities in mathematics and physics.

For me, it is appealing to do things hands-on; I like doing things, and engineering is to be part of the ‘doing’ process, the creation process.

Would you say there are barriers to women joining the industry? Have you experienced any barriers in your own journey?

Everybody’s experience is different, and it is shaped by where you grew up, what you studied, and what companies you work with. To be honest, my experience has never been anything but positive, all the way from school to where I am now. I never felt like I didn’t have the same opportunities as my male peers. All I needed to do was to show I was as good as them. Especially with engineering, [you are evaluated] on your skillset, your problem-solving, and how you approach things.

Growing up in Germany, we did extensive tests in school which asked what our interests were, what we liked to do, and tested our ability to solve problems—and I don’t remember having to put my gender on that test. When the results came back, they showed a list of things you might like to do. I remember Engineering being one of my suggestions—which I think stuck in my mind.

As it was approached in a very neutral environment—as a test and not personal advice—I didn’t really experience [barriers] like that. My experience was very figures-and-facts-based.

I’ve never been involved in an environment where anybody told me ‘that’s not something for women’; I’ve never even considered it in any way. It is only in recent years, being engaged in these discussions about young women getting into certain professions, that it dawned on me. It just never occurred to me that people might think ‘that is not a profession for women’. I just assumed that women might naturally not choose [to study engineering].

What I have noticed in British society is the way young girls are treated, which is focused on beauty and politeness; nobody ever says a girl needs to be smart, courageous, clever, and do whatever they want – it’s always about being pretty and polite.

I was always one of two women who studied, but that never bothered me. When I started working at DSSR, there were a few female engineers, which I enjoyed. On the other side of things, I feel like we interview and take on board a good level of female engineers—we may not have as many female engineers [as males], but it’s not because we’re not seeking them out.

If you have experienced barriers, how did you overcome them?

I think internal barriers are a challenge. There are no barriers in the education system, but people can be held back by their expectations—expecting people to think a certain way, thinking people are questioning why you are there, but it may not be what your peers are actually thinking. My advice would be don’t always expect that you might be penalised or given different chances to other people.

In your opinion, is there anything the industry could do better to encourage women to join?

With all the various companies and contractors I have worked with, I have noticed there can sometimes be a very particular, informal culture where the language isn’t very appropriate for women and would be best described as ‘hanging around in a pub’. I think it could be off-putting to women in the industry where people aren’t very mindful of their language or tone.

I like that DSSR is very supportive of women. Our HR Director put in place a higher maternity pay than the statutory amount and generally made sure we give women the chance to take a break if they have children—and come back into the business from maternity leave and continue their career, instead of going back to square one.

I think that’s a big difference between men and women—it’s important to have mechanisms in place to support coming back to work. DSSR is good for having a flexible working environment, where you can take your child to the GP for example. It is important for the industry to be flexible and be able to facilitate a good work-life balance – and that applies to men and women.

What has been your career highlight so far?

Getting my chartered engineering status, based solely on the background of modelling, which is not common, is a highlight.

My favourite highlight is how I managed to develop and grow the Building Performance Modelling team within DSSR. I really drove that with perseverance, showing the benefits of having a dedicated team focused on modelling. I like that people respect me for the knowledge I carry with regards to building modelling and low carbon building design guidance; being recognised for my expertise, and being the go-to person, is a very positive experience.

 

Rachel Mason: Senior Sustainability Specialist

It’s always interesting to hear people describe how they got where they are. Can you please tell us about your journey into the engineering field?

Although not an ‘Engineer’ as such myself, my journey into the Engineering field came about from my interest in the natural world. I studied Geology at the University of Glasgow which then led to a Masters in Energy and Environmental Management of Oil and Gas at Glasgow Caledonian University. From there, I joined the DSSR team in 2016 as Sustainability Advisor and my career in MEP Consulting Engineering has continued to today.

Would you say there are barriers to women joining the industry? Have you experienced any barriers in your own journey?

I might be lucky, however, I have not experienced any real barriers in my career. I am a true believer that if you want to succeed at something you just need to find the right way and be open to change.

If you have, how did you overcome them?

During my Masters, I had the opportunity to go to Malawi to build a Hugh Piggot wind turbine. The intent of this project was to build and install a turbine which would generate enough energy to power rechargeable batteries that could be used for small devices such as lighting. The part of Malawi I was working in had poor access to grid electricity. We had to locate a suitable location, build the turbine from local materials and install this at our chosen spot.

We split the group into key task groups (blades, electrical, mechanical, site) and we had Malawian counterparts that we trained in a knowledge exchange. – They needed to understand how to maintain the turbine as they would be operating it after we left.

My role in the site team was to identify a suitable turbine location and help with digging foundations. Our chosen spot was a field owned by the Village Chief (Chief Chilomo). At first, he found it very strange that a ‘woman’ was digging foundations with a group of guys. We only had basic tools and he had never seen a woman use a pick axe before! He would often try to help me with the heavier tasks but over time he became more accepting of a woman working out in the field and treated me just the same as my male counterparts.

In your opinion, is there anything the industry could do better to encourage women to join?

Not sure? I have always been supported in my career. However, I am aware that this is not the case in all parts of the world. I believe everyone should be supported to follow their chosen path whether you are a girl, a boy, want to take up a career in Engineering or if your passion lies elsewhere.

What has been your career highlight so far?

I would say becoming a Registered Environmental Practitioner (REnvP) with the Society of the Environment back in August 2021 was a real personal highlight for me. At that time this new stepping stone to Chartership was very new and I was one of the first 100 in the UK to gain the title (71st to be exact).